Culinary School: Poisson En Papillote

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[infobox bg="bluelight" color="black" opacity="on" subtitle="Week 4: My Holiday Meal"]Adventures in Culinary School[/infobox]

Before heading home for a short Christmas holiday from NY to LA, went dove headfirst into the world of fish at school.  Flat fish, round fish, brackish, fatty, lean, wild, farm-raised...you know the deal!  I especially enjoyed these lessons as it was our first time dealing directly with proteins, and we were expected to take whole fish and break them down into fillets.  What fun, ah!

We dressed our fish by removing the guts, loose scales, head, tail, fins, and gills.  We saved the bones and head for fish fumet and moved onto slicing our round fish down the back to remove the 2 filets.  Once you have the fillets removed, it's time to skin them using a wiggling technique that drives your fillet knife directly between the flesh and the skin if done properly.  You're left with a beautiful filet that should be deboned using special tweezers, and then cooked and eaten up.  Yum!

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My favorite dish to come out of the fish lessons was Poisson en Papillote.  It's a dish I've eaten and prepared before, and one of the only ways I truly enjoy cooked fish.  Using a lean, white fish you place a seasoned fillet on a bed of tomato fondue and add a garnish of vegetables and thyme.  A couple drops of white wine are added, an important element that steams the fish when wrapped into a parchment paper envelope.

The resulting flavor is buttery and mild, with a hint of white wine and thyme.  There is no better fish dish in my book, one that I love so much I chose to make it for Christmas Day dinner for my family.  I went to the fish market the morning of in the Dana Point Harbor, picked up some gorgeous grouper filets (skin on) and got to work.  The recipe, from The International Culinary Center is below.  Enjoy!

[tabgroup layout="horizontal"] [tab title="Ingredients"]For the Fish and Papillotes:

4 fillets of red snapper, tilefish or bass (125 g each)

25 g vegetable oil

Fresh thyme sprigs

1 egg white, lightly beaten

White wine

Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Tomato Fondue:

200 g ripe tomatoes

20 g shallots or onions, ciseler

10 g butter or olive oil

Bouquet Garni

Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Duxelles:

200 g mushrooms

30 g shallots, ciseler

20 g butter

1 1/4 g lemon juice

Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Vegetable Garniture:

50 g carrots, julienne

50 g leeks, julienne

50 g celery, julienne

10 g butter

Salt and Pepper to taste[/tab] [tab title="Procedure"]For the Fish:

1. Remove the fins. Scale, gut, rinse, skin, and fillet the fish. Remove any pinbones and portion the fish.

2. Coat the fillets with vegetable oil and chopped fresh thyme and refrigerate.

For the Tomato Fondue:

1. Briefly boil the tomatoes to loosen skin.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, and working over a bowl, squeeze out the seeds. Chop them coarsely. 3. In a small frying pan, sweat the onions, shallots, and garlic in the butter or oil until they are soft. Add the chopped tomatoes. Cover with a parchment paper lid cut to the size of the pan and with a small hole in the center. Cook on low heat until all the excess water has evaporated. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

For the Mushroom Duxelles and Vegetable Garniture:

1. Rinse the mushrooms in water and add lemon juice. Dry the mushrooms well. Chop the mushrooms by hand or in the food processor.

2. In a small frying pan, sweat the shallots in the butter with achieving any color for 5 minutes.

3. Add the chopped mushrooms. Cover with a parchment paper lid with a hole in the center. Cook the mushrooms until there is no liquid left in the pan. They should be moist but not soupy. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

4. Cook the vegetable garniture separately in a small pan, filling with water halfway up the vegetables, bringing to a boil in salted and buttered water. Season to taste.

For Cutting and Assembling Papillotes:

1. Starting with one half of a large sheet of parchment paper, cut the paper into a heart shape. Season the fillets with salt and pepper.

2. Place 30 mL of the duxelles and 30 mL of the tomato fondue on each piece of parchment, side by side. Place the fillet on top, presentation side up. Top with the vegetable garniture and a sprig of thyme. Moisten with a few splashes of white wine.

3. Brush the edges of the paper heart with the lightly beaten egg white, fold the paper heart in half, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the edges of the folded package with the beaten egg white. Make a series of short folds along the edges. For an extra-secure seal, brush it again with egg white and repeat the short folds. Using a party brush, very lightly oil the top of the papillotes.

For Baking the Papillotes:

1. Preheat the oven to 450 F.

2. To order: Place the papillotes on a sheet pan and place in the preheated oven. The papillotes are usually done when completely puffed, about 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

3. Serve the fish in the papillote to be opened at the table. This allows the diner to enjoy the presentation and aroma.[/tab] [/tabgroup]